Planning a trip is almost as much fun as the voyage itself: figuring out where you want to go, learning about the destination in question, planning an itinerary and dreaming about the adventure to come…
We often think about how much more difficult it used to be to plan a trip. Generally speaking, we had to take a much greater leap of faith when booking a hotel or choosing where we were going to go, before the internet took away a lot of the mystery and uncertainty.
Today, websites and apps make planning a breeze, comparatively. We do a lot of googling when we are making plans for a trip; however, there are three key websites that we rely quite heavily on (and a fourth that we have just discovered) that help an awful lot.
Trip Advisor is far and away our favourite go-to site to check out hotels. The advice is given from fellow travellers, and is always unbiased and brutally honest: the good, the bad and the ugly. There are usually enough reviews that you can sift through and get a very strong sense of what a hotel is like in terms of location, cleanliness, amenities, etc. Trip Advisor has never steered us wrong. And we are are among many, many, many others who feel the same way! Trip Advisor is so popular, that a good Trip Advisor rating is a source of pride among hotel and restaurant owners. It is very common now, regardless of where you are, to see those ratings posted in the windows of highly ranked spots posted in their windows as a means of attracting tourists.
We use Trip Advisor almost exclusively for hotels, but on our recent trip to China, we also used it to book two tour guides, one in Longji and one in Beijing (we will be posting on those guided tours soon!) Once again, the strong ratings from Trip Advisor were right on the money.
Trip Advisor also has an app, including city guides for a number of places (we just used one in Montreal a short time ago). The best part about their city guides is that you download all the information, so that you don’t need wifi access in order to look at the maps or read the reviews (handy for people like us who don’t have smart phones).
Booking.com is a great website when you are ready to book your hotel. We have found that we can almost always find a better price on booking.com than on any other hotel booking website (and often a better deal than on a hotel’s actual website). When we are planning a trip, we usually go to booking.com first, do a search for potential accommodation spots, then check out the reviews on Trip Advisor to see what folks thought about it (booking.com also has reviews, but Trip Advisor still seems to be the go-to site when people want to provide feedback about travel). If the Trip Advisor reviews are good, then we go back to booking.com and make a reservation! One of the best things about booking.com is that many of the hotels offer free cancellation (up to 24 or 48 hours prior to your check-in date), so it is often helpful to book something on booking.com and then keep looking. If you find something you like better, it is easy to cancel your reservation.
Booking.com also has an app, but we haven’t used it much yet. Creating your own account with booking.com is also useful as all your reservations are saved in one place.
We are regular users of the Lonely Planet books, but their website’s Thorntree section is very useful if you have specific questions about a destination, how to get places, itineraries you have planned, safety, and possible activities. User-generated information and advice means that you learn from those who have been there before. It’s a great supplement to the books that give practical advice and historical and cultural information about the place you are headed.
We are new users to this website, but it is an intriguing idea. People list their own properties for short-term rent for vacationers. You can filter your search results by city as well as whether you want a private room in a house, or whether you want an entire apartment or house to yourself. You contact the owner, and if you hit it off in your online introductions, you book the place. The bonus is that you can have access to a kitchen and other house amenities, plus, the prices tend to be cheaper than a hotel. You can find everything from a small bedroom to a luxury house and there are listings for locations all around the world.
We just used Air BnB for the first time on a trip to Montreal. The apartment we booked was very basic (we knew that going in) but the location and price were unbeatable. The website has numerous photos for each listing, plus a Google Maps identifier and photos, so you know exactly what you are getting before you book. We will definitely use Air BnB for future trips as a potential alternative to a hotel.
Those are just three of the many internet tools available to today’s traveller. Remember, the planning is part of the fun of the trip. Happy travelling!